I just returned from the Macworld conference in San Francisco where the latest innovations in Apple’s product lines are showcased each year. As an Apple fanatic, I have attended virtually every Macworld for the past decade. The highlight of each conference is the keynote address by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Jobs uses his keynote to lift the fiercely guarded veil of secrecy surrounding new product releases by Apple. At last year’s Macworld Greenpeace was distributing flyers criticizing Apple for not phasing out the use of toxic chemicals in its products. This year Greenpeace was not at the conference because Apple announced in May 2007 that it was adopting far-reaching policies to produce “A Greener Apple” (www.apple.com/hotnews/agreenerapple). Jobs concluded this year’s keynote by highlighting what Apple is doing to protect the environment. Jobs indicated that this may become an annual feature of his keynote.
Jobs announced that the Apple’s new Macbook Air, the world’s thinnest laptop, had been designed with the environment in mind. Its aluminum case is fully recyclable; its 15-inch display is mercury-free and its glass contains no arsenic. Its circuit boards are free of brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride. These innovations are consistent with the significant environmental pledges made in the company’s announcement of “a greener Apple” only nine months after Greenpeace launched its campaign. The company pledged to beat deadlines for phasing out toxics in its products under the EU’s RoHS regulations, while noting that some other electronics companies were using little-known exemptions to claim RoHS compliance.
What is particularly noteworthy about the Greenpeace campaign is that it did not seek to demonize Apple - the group’s flyers began with the statement “We love Apple - Apple knows more about ‘clean’ design than anybody”. This has not always been Greenpeace’s strategy, but it seems to have worked in this case. It is hard not to think that the world’s environment would be in far better shape today if oil companies or automobile manufacturers had the kind of management that has been running Apple.
On January 11, 2008, Sir Edmund Hillary died. On May 29, 1953, Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first persons to climb Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world. I had the enormous privilege of meeting Sir Edmund in Nepal in 1981, entirely by coincidence. I had been part of a group of novice climbers led by Sherpa Pertemba who were returning from a climb of 20,000-foot Island Peak. While hiking down a trail near the village of Khumjung, we encountered Sir Edmund who was hiking up the trail in the opposite direction. He was in Nepal to visit a school funded by the Himalayan Trust he established, which built many schools, bridges and hospitals in the region. Sir Edmund could not have been nicer or more gracious to our group, congratulating us on our climb and posing for pictures with us. On my office wall I have a photo of our group with me standing next to Sir Edmund. I often ask students if they can identify who the famous person in the photo is and which one is me. Few are able to answer either question correctly because Hillary remained relatively anonymous and I had a beard and was in far better physical shape than I am today. In this day of obsession with egomaniacal celebrities, I often think of Hillary as a true role model - a modest man who quietly used his celebrity status to raise money to help the poor in a most beautiful corner of the world. Hillary will be buried in a state funeral in his home country of New Zealand on January 22.